Good friends are bicycling together across the country. Soon, nerves fray. It seems that Lulu tends to shrink from confrontation, while Soo tends to plunge in.
It’s tact versus truth-telling.
It’s “If I’m nice, maybe I can entice this person to be more ______ (thoughtful, helpful, responsive, etc.) than he truly is” versus “This is so, so wrong, and I simply won’t stand for it.”
Lulu apologizes to other people for her friend’s insensitivity. Soo is frustrated by her friend’s self-serving avoidance of conflict and misguided insincerity.
The hosts of this podcast, Jad and Robert, report that members of their own staff were “haunted” by this story. I’ve set up the YouTube audio to begin at about 34:30. You will hear Lulu speaking first, somewhat tearfully (about an incident in which Soo had once again confronted someone, this time a self-described “prophet,” possibly schizophrenic, whom the two friends encountered one night at a hostel). A bit later, you will hear from Soo. The relevant portion continues for about four minutes to 38:10:
I won’t speculate why this story affected the Radiolab staff so deeply. But I do have a couple or three observations that I’d like to share.
First, for me, one aspect of the story here is the friendship. Lulu comes to realize how much she admires Soo’s candor, courage, and optimism about what people are capable of. Soo acknowledges how much she admires Lulu’s commitment to forging and fostering relationships. Their mutual regard and affection are lovely.
Second, I find it helpful to be reminded that we — by which I mean society at large — must learn this truth over and over: namely, that we differ from one another in fundamental ways. How many times in my life have I had to contend with befuddlement, disappointment, and hurt feelings that resulted from a clash of opposites, of conflicting personalities, of what the Myers & Briggs folks call “preferences” in “perception and judgment” that encompass differences between “thinking” and “feeling”? Short answer: many, many times.
Thinking: When I make a decision, I like to find the basic truth or principle to be applied, regardless of the specific situation involved. I like to analyze pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in deciding. I try to be impersonal, so I won’t let my personal wishes–or other people’s wishes–influence me.
Feeling: I believe I can make the best decisions by weighing what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation. I am concerned with values and what is the best for the people involved. I like to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony. In my relationships, I appear caring, warm, and tactful.
Third, in a sense it doesn’t matter from where we start, “thinking” or “feeling,” because we all face the same danger.
Soo’s inability not to “pick at a scab,” as she describes it, can be (by her own admission) alienating. Her penchant for telling it like it is threatens to isolate her from the rest of us.
At the same time, Lulu herself has the sense that when she holds back and dissembles and pretends, she is not “really having a conversation.” She is not meeting the “real” person. In other words, that her way of being in the world threatens to isolate her from the rest of us, as we truly are.
That is somewhat disturbing, isn’t it? Even haunting. The notion that left to our own devices, each of us will tend to reinforce or exacerbate his or her aloneness.
Which takes me back to my first point. How fortunate for both women that they have each other!